Affandi’s self-portraits are both a visual reflection and documentation of his person at different stages of his life. From the very first self-portraits in the 1930s to his works from the late 1980s, they reveal an intimate journey and evolution of a man and artist throughout the course of time. Self Portrait is a pensive and expressive portrait of Affandi at the judicious age of 70. Sotheby’s is proud to offer this striking work, hailing from an exceptional single-owner collection, at our sales this season.
In 1935, Affandi who was turned away at a paintings exhibition due to his appearance was deeply affected by the encounter. He asked himself: “What’s wrong with the way I look?”[ii] It was during this period when he would paint his first self-portraits. As Affandi advanced through the years, his self-portraits became an intimate documentation of his maturity as both an individual and an artist; a snapshot of him in that moment, revealing an ever-changing human spirit and physique. They chronicle an introspective look into the myriad of emotions that one experiences throughout their lives—from happiness to sadness or anger. Self Portrait projects a sense of deliberation, his eyes, downcast and closed, as if deep in thought. His expression is calm, contrary to what the chaotic strokes of paint may suggest.
Self Portrait is composed in the inimitable expressionistic style and color palette for which Affandi is known. The artist is now 70 years old in this portrait and the signs of aging are apparent. Age spots are dotted with dark brown paint on his cheeks, and the artist dares to portray his physical flaws including his thinning hair. The dynamic overlapping of red, black, orange and dark green are applied thinly against the bare canvas which make up the fleshy tones of his skin, while thicker lines that vary in direction to delineate his hair, head and features, create fluidity and a sense of movement.
The artist’s unique style of paint application—by squeezing the paint directly from the tube and smearing it directly onto the canvas in a fevered dance, resulted in some of the most expressive and rhythmic works to ever come out of Indonesia. Most noteworthy, however, is the fact that Affandi painted with his bare hands, allowing him more freedom to paint intuitively without the physical limitations of a paintbrush. This instinctive and impulsive method captures even more literally, the innate connection between man and canvas and acts as a physical imprint of a singular moment in time.
Akin to Rembrandt and Van Gogh, who painted themselves with unyielding scrutiny and fanaticism, Affandi’s self-portraits were relentless in portraying his self. His abstract portraits conveyed the individual as an enigma, made up of multitudes beyond the physical.
In most of Affandi’s self-portraits, his features lack uniformity and are never clearly delineated. Rather, he paints them loosely, giving the viewer just enough information to visually trace the contours of his face. The vibrant colours that Affandi often employs in his work dominate in a chaotic swirl, as though an implosion of his emotions and thoughts were laid bare on the canvas.
Time is a proponent by which to measure the ever-evolving human spirit and has become an endless source of inspiration for Affandi’s self-portraits. Self Portrait is a work that exudes the artist’s personality and captures beautifully, the pensive spirit of an elderly man with passion and dynamism; a quiet, composed portrait of the most important expressionist artist from Indonesia.
[i] Helena Spanjaaard, “Affandi in Europe”, Affandi Volume III, ed. Sardjana Sumichan, Binta Lestari Budaya Foundation and Singapore Art Museum 2007. p. 92
[ii] Jim Supangkat, “Affandi and Self Portrait”, Sardjana Sumichan, Affandi Volume I. Binta Lestari Budaya Foundation and Singapore Art Museum 2007. p. 62
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